May 8th, 2017
In this blog we will discuss stress, its causes, impact and some strategies for managing stress effectively.
Stress is a normal part of life and nobody is immune to stressful situations and stress. Even if you could, you would not want to get rid of it altogether as we all need a certain amount of stress to energise and motivate us to take action. However, stress can become a problem when it is overwhelming and we’re exposed to it for a prolonged period of time. Coping with stress effectively is all about finding a balance and keeping it at manageable levels.
What causes stress?
As a means of survival, humans have evolved down through the ages in a way that they can recognise and react to any external threats posed to them. The fight-or-flight response, or acute stress response, is a reaction that occurs in response to a perceived threat to survival. Essentially, when we feel we are in danger, our mind tells our body to get ready to fight, flee or freeze. In the modern world, this can happen when we feel overwhelmed by what is being asked of us and feel under-resourced for coping with these demands. We can perceive this as being a threat to our physical or psychological well-being.
Symptoms of stress
People experience stress in lots of different ways and below is a list of just some of the symptoms you may experience when dealing with stress:
- Weight loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased irritability
- Anxiety or feelings of panic
- Easily frustrated
- Negative self-statements
- Increased alcohol or drug-use
- Under-eating or overeating
- Working longer hours
Learning more effective ways to manage stress
When feeling stressed a natural, human reaction is to try to cope by doing things such as avoiding situations, worrying excessively, smoking and/or drinking too much, overeating or under eating. Unfortunately, while these strategies can give some short-term relief from stress or illusion of the same, they tend to make matters worse in the longer term.
There are other strategies that can be more helpful, both in the short-term, and especially not cause more problems than they solve in the short-term. Since every individual has a unique response to stress there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing it.
Below are our top tips for managing stress:
Limit unnecessary stress
Some stress just can’t be ignored, and it’s never a good idea to avoid an issue that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
- Learn how to say no – both on a professional and personal level. You should never take on more than you can handle as this will be a definite recipe for stress.
- Cut down your to-do list – Analyse your schedule and prioritise your tasks by level of urgency.
- Limit the amount of time you spend with people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time you spend with that person and be more aware of your reaction to them. Your reaction is thankfully something you can control.
- Take control of the situation – Identify how you can limit stress in a particular situation e.g. if grocery shopping makes you stressed do your grocery shopping at a less busy time or make a list. If driving to work stresses you out find a less busy route or cycle
2. Change the situation or change your reaction to it
This point all comes down to the very foundation of stress management which is all about taking control of your situation.
When trying to cope with stress it is helpful to take a step back and ask yourself can I either
- Alter my situation in some way?
and if I cannot make changes to improve my situation can I
- Change my reaction?
3. Alter the situation
If you cannot limit stress of a particular situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things to reduce stress in your current situation & also to ensure the problem doesn’t present itself in the future.
- Make your feelings known - instead of bottling them up - if something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment can build and the situation will likely remain the same.
- Be assertive - Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If a client in work gives you an unrealistic deadline be honest and firm with them and say you will need more time in order to adequately complete the task.
- Improve your time management - Poor time management can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. When you’re running behind on tasks it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.
4. Change Your Attitude
If it’s not possible to change the situation try changing how you approach it. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by altering your expectations and attitude.
- Make room for yourself – if something quiet stressful is going on in your life, this is a particularly important time to make sure you are taking the space you need:
- Delegate/postpone – ask yourself if there is anything you can ask someone else to help you with. This can be really helpful in freeing up some of your available resources and headspace.
- Self-care – the more under pressure you are, the more you need to make sure you look after yourself. Make sure to make time to do the things that make you feel well: they are not luxury, they are essentials!
- Reframe problems - Try to view stressful situations from a different perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to relax and enjoy some alone time.
- Look at the bigger picture - Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself in the grand scheme of things how important is this issue? Will you remember it in a week or months’ time? If the answer is no then focus your energy on important things.
- Adjust your expectations - Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Focus on the positive - When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
5. Accept the things you cannot change
Some sources of stress are unavoidable and cannot be changed. In these cases the following strategies can be helpful:
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable - Many things in life are beyond our control—particularly the behaviour of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to respond to problems.
- Look at the flipside - As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, it can be helpful to try to see how they may also be opportunities for personal growth.
- Open up - Talk to a trusted friend face to face or make an appointment with a therapist. The simple act of expressing what you’re going through can be very therapeutic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
- Make room for acceptance - Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to love it, like it, or want it but it is about making room for imperfection rather than constantly fighting against it. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
So, the next time you are experiencing stress take a step back, assess the cause to see whether the situation is within your control or not. Then you will be able to choose an appropriate coping strategy whether that be changing the situation or changing your reaction to it. If you feel you need more help in terms of managing your stress and mental health there are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) courses out there which can help with this such as our own CBT programmes To find out more drop us an email.